CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — President Bush yesterday said violence in Iraq will increase as the country approaches its first free and fair elections Jan. 30 and he promised to send 12,000 additional U.S. troops to bolster security.
Mr. Bush flew to this Marine base 38 miles north of San Diego — which has sent 21,000 troops abroad to fight the war on terrorism — to boost the morale of the troops and their families.
More than 1,500 Marines filled a high school football stadium under dreary skies and warmly received the president’s address, which was similar to his pre-election speeches that highlighted the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“As election day approaches, we can expect further violence from the terrorists,” Mr. Bush said. “You see, the terrorists understand what is at stake. They know they have no future in a free Iraq because free people will never choose their own enslavement. They know democracy will give Iraqis a stake in the future of their country.”
Mr. Bush said the Iraqi elections “will proceed as planned,” adding that he has a “strategy in place to aid the rise of a stable democracy in Iraq.” A key part of it, he said, is increasing the U.S. military presence.
“To help the Iraqi government provide security during the election period, we will increase U.S. troop strength by about 12,000 personnel, for a total of 150,000 troops,” he said.
Mr. Bush’s one-day trip across the continent comes a day after several members of the military filed suit against the government for extending their deployments into war zones.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president recognizes the importance of keeping morale high under difficult circumstances.
“I think as commander in chief, this visit underscores how important the president thinks his role is, and that it is important to keep the spirits high of the troops and their families,” Mr. Duffy said aboard Air Force One en route to California.
After his speech, Mr. Bush had lunch in a mess hall with hundreds of what he called “squared-away gung-ho United States Marines” and their families. On Saturday, he will visit with injured troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, a trip that has become a regular ritual for the president since the Iraq war.
So far, about 1,000 troops have been killed by hostile fire in the war on terror, most of them in Iraq. A little more than 200 of them were from this base.
The Marines in attendance peppered Mr. Bush’s speech with hearty “oorahs,” especially when he lauded their units’ exploits on the battlefield.
Mr. Bush also urged Americans to do more to put their support of U.S. troops and their families into action.
“Across our country, Americans are coming together to surround our deployed forces and wounded warriors with love and support. We should be doing more,” Mr. Bush said after telling a few stories of Americans who have volunteered their time. “I urge every American to find some way to thank our military and to help out the military family down the street.”